Two Years, Gentle Reminder, Game Development Breakdown

Two years of game development on Harem Collector! Yeah, that is… not an achievement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly happy celebrating two years of getting to work on games, but I’m really hoping I can wrap-up HC by this time next year. I have lots of other projects I want to share with you all, so here’s hoping I can escalate my efforts accordingly.

Also, small reminder- if you want to get in on the Backer release on March 4th, you have to sign on to the Patreon campaign by the end of the month. If you’ve ever donated before the Patreon campaign, then don’t worry about it- you’ll still get the regular backer email.

So, lately I’ve been reflecting on why RPG Maker has such a terrible reputation in the gaming community. There are plenty of folks who avoid games made with the engine entirely, and now Unity is starting to get the same reputation. This makes my job significantly harder- it’s hard enough to get people to try your product in a crowded marketplace without potential players thinking “all games with your engine suck”.  The truth, the only difference between Unity, RPG Maker and all other game engines out there is the barrier to entry.

Game development is tremendously complex, but it generally gets broken down into a handful of categories:

  • Game design, or mechanical design, which covers how the game plays, the mechanics work, how the levels are laid out and the general “feel” of the experience.
  • Sound design, which can be broken down further into music, acted dialogue, sound effects and audio engineering.
  • Game “writing”, which covers everything from plot expression, character dialogue, and even something as mundane as menu or tutorial text.
  • Art or visual design, which covers literally everything visual that appears on the screen, from animation to image stills to character design to font choice.
  • Programming, or code. Most programming is “just” making all the other harmonize on a computer screen in such a way as the game does what it is designed to do, but there can be plenty of “art” rather than “science” to programming, especially when things like physics engines are involved.

I hope that short list really gives you a sense of the scope of things that need to get put into any one game, because there is a lot that needs to happen in order to create a good game experience.

My essential point is this- very few individuals are the kind of savants that can actually do all of these things together. I like to think my main strength is mechanical design- though everyone currently stuck on the Count Corgan battle will probably disagree with that assessment. Chibi’s primary strength is in visuals, and the “feel of the experience” parts of game design. Cypress’ biggest strength is his writing and dialogue. That doesn’t necessarily mean that any of us slouch in the other departments (we all work very hard at what we do), but it’s almost impossible to be an expert in all five. For every Phil Fish and Jasper Byrne there are hundreds of game designers who are weak in two or more areas.

Which brings us back to RPG Maker and Unity. The biggest strength of these engines is that they provide art, sound, code editors, and some rudimentary mechanics. This lower “barrier to entry” is attractive to anyone who isn’t some game dev Übermensch, but unfortunately it also means a lot of poorly thought out crap gets made available to the public.

So, I guess, don’t judge a game by it’s engine. There are lots of great (free!) RPG Maker games that absolutely deserve your time and attention. The same goes for Unity.

11 Replies to “Two Years, Gentle Reminder, Game Development Breakdown”

  1. *cough*

    That pretty much explains the phenomena in a nutshell. As you said, the main strengths of those engines for many fledgling creators is the pre-rendered content. People show are new to game design and the engines through together something small and are proud of it, so decide to share it with people. Unfortunately, those “baby-steps” often get judged in the same proving grounds as the big boys.

    Casual players feel that the market is “water downed” and become increasingly critical of any perceived faults and thus assume by themselves that “this game sucks” with out playing it. Eventually, even the potentially good and innovative games get ignored by the masses because they are perceived as sucking from a distance. Eventually, people develop an association between the engine and bad games because they have convinced themselves that all those games sucked.

    1. Correction: “People show are new to game design and the engines through together […]”
      “People who are new to game design and the engine thow together […]”

  2. Yeah, it’s true, that there’s a lot of crappy games made with RPG Maker, but some games are just plain awesome. If you have some free time, here’s some examples.
    1. Exit Fate.
    It’s an amazing rpg with a colorful cast of charcters (among standard fighters and mages there are such people like a wandering rock star, a talking cat, a goth girl with a rapier, a mad scientist with the pulse gun many others). The main plot revolves around the war between several countries and discovering what is behind a MC’s amnesia. All in all the game is quite similar to Suikoden 2, which is awesome.
    2. It looks like SMT, it plays like SMT, it’s probably… Ill Will. It’s a dungeon crawler with battle system really similar to Shin Megami Tensei games and author admitted that SMT was an inspiration. Due to an accident five friends are transported to some sort of underground cave, where they are attacked by some monsters. Plot starts quite slow, and not much is explained at the beginning, but nevertheless it’s a good game.
    3. Ib. It’s a survival horror game about a girl in a gallery and i think i wrote about it on the forums.
    4. Vacant Sky. I do not want to spoil much, so i’ll just say that the premise is that the main heroine is shot by a cop and then wakes up in a strange unfamiliar place with no recollection of what happened. The story is quite interesting and the music is simply breathtaking.

    1. Well, Vacant Sky is another example of why a lot of people ignore RPGM games. The entire series is supposed to have 4 chapters, but only two have been released as of yet, and the creator is extremely tight lipped about what progress he is making, instead choosing to use his developers blog as a retrospective look at the past games.

      It has been two and a half years since the last release of the series, and almost as long since the creator gave any real progress reports.

  3. I don’t really think that using RPG Maker or Unity has anything to do with people avoiding games that use these engines.

    I believe that it has more to do with overused pre-made resources (typically art).

    As Kaoy pointed out, people just get tired of seeing the same shit and paying money to play it.

    HC is free, so you don’t really have to win people over in that respect. However, a lot of games are free these days so it kind of counter balances this pro.

    As for original art. That is probably the biggest hurdle I can see with HC in terms of first impressions. Custom Maid makes some ok images, but suffers from the copy paste look and originality is pretty much shot. I can’t say that I like the way it composites and renders images either.

    Mind you, I do realize the cost and time involved in original artwork. But it’s a fact, reused artwork makes a game look like a lego creation. Thankfully you didn’t use Ralph as the hero!

    If your ever interested in trying your hand at making custom artwork but aren’t so good at drawing you may want to give blender a try (

    It’s a free open source solution like Gimp. Even if the artwork is in 3D, you have control over the composting and rendering process, so you can make flat manga styled images with it too.

    The interface is notoriously not-so-user-friendly, but the program has power that is nearly on par with some very expensive commercial solutions out there, so you can’t really argue with a price point like that.

    Other issues with RPG Maker specifically, is the really bland Dragon Quest branded scripts and the really overused music library.

    I personally wouldn’t worry too much about HC popularity for now, as you put in so much time already it would be kind of crazy to do re-ferb.

    You still have a decent sized fan base and it will probably grow as you keep honing your skills in game development.

  4. every engine has it own quirks. and for every mario, zelda, and sonic theres a hundred dikanta’s out there. just like for every blockbuster that makes hundres of millions, theres a lot of ones that flop hard.
    are ALL rpgmaker games crap? h– no. personally i like rpgmaker games. tho there are a few that are bad, but those are mainly the failings of the person making it. either they’re really good at 1 part and fail on the others. or they start, plink around a bit and then go “its too hard, i give up”.
    there are a lot of sites that have ppls games that havnt been updated in a looong time.
    as for what arkinum said. yeah the dozen or so “standard” pics, the 4 or 5 “standard” music is… while not bad but it is overused. but then not everyone can be, or is, a sprite master.

    otoh one of the other few i like does use mostly standard pics and music. (tho i do wonder what the one song he uses for the party music) its Alone Amongst Demons (i found it over at

    tho another (besides harem collector and overwhored) is Loki’s Corruption. (same site as above) but it uses almost all custom made graphix and music. (i will say s/he or who ever is making them is really good). ]

    with all that said there are several other game makers that are getting just as bad of a rap (or worse) as rpgmaker, like oh rags.

  5. Oh, and in regards to Homework Salesman (linked above), I would love nothing more than to say that it is fantastic and flawless, but it really falls apart near the end. The main issues have to do with the fact that, since each of them have their own lives and schedules, you have to hunt down your party mates each and every game day. That gets old fast, especially since one or two of them appear in a few randomized spots in the dungeon.

    Then there is the issue with how random the skill trainers are. You never know who will be where on what floor on what day, meaning that you waste a lot of time (real time and game days) hunting down the trainer you want to get the skills you need. It gets better once you reopen the school, but the problem still exists, since recruiting a trainer to teach there is expensive and still requires you to hunt them down at least once.

    Then there is the fact that end game is essentially a massive forced grind, as the final boss is a HUGE difficult spike. With out a perfectly equipped and optimized party, he can only be beaten with ridiculous levels of luck. Even such a party can still get wiped out in a couple of rounds if the boss just so happens to go spam happy on his more powerful skills.

    The first 70 or 80% of the game is a very solid 9/10, in my book. The last quarter to a third though…

    1. Oh, and there is the fact that game days are counted, and certain story events happen on specific days. This means you can accidentally reach a point in the game when you want to start banging your head against the wall while wondering why the enemies are trashing you so easily, only to find out it was because the new NPC who gives you access to more powerful items/gear/enhancements hadn’t moved in yet.

      The game days counter later serves a huge annoyance, as it reminds you just how many game days you wasted hunting down that one damned trainer.

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